Education

10 Portrait Photography Tips You’ll Never Want to Forget

By Guest Author - 7 min read

Annette Zer is a 28 year old, Berlin based photographer focusing on portraits, lifestyle and still life photography. In this guest post, Annette shares some of her best tips to help keep things fresh and unique for each person you're aiming your lens towards.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the same old formulas when it comes to portraits. Even with new poses, taking portraits can become very mundane if the same compositions and angles are used for every person. Who hasn’t been through that creative rut where the pictures start looking very familiar? Getting great shots of people is always a challenge, but let these 10 tips guide you in the right direction.

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1. Take a Moment to Get to Know Your Model

This might sound basic and for some even unnecessary and too time consuming. You might be convinced that it’s not even possible to get to know something significant about someone in such a short time. But this is not what my tip is all about. I am suggesting to ask funny personal questions, make the models laugh while also opening up yourself and telling stories about your own hilarious incidents. This will open up the person in front of your camera and make them show you an honest side of themselves that you may capture.

Portrait Of Young Woman Relaxing On Wooden Seat
Portrait Of Beautiful Young Woman

2. Fine Feathers Make Fine Birds

This tip is an essential one in order to create the mood you have in mind for the set you’re shooting. Don’t underestimate the power of clothes and accessories. Pay close attention to patterns, colors, the way items of clothing are cut and even textures. Some patterns can clash with your background and quickly create a hectic and overloaded picture. When it comes to colors I have to honestly admit: There are some I never shoot. I might even ask models to not bring clothes in certain colors, because they aren’t compatible with my editing and would instantly change the mood of my photos in a way I don’t like them to.

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3. It’s All About the Light

Don’t be afraid to shoot your portraits during different times of the day. The way photos leave an impression is strongly dependant on your light settings. Next time, don’t shoot during your beloved soft morning light. Instead, try to leave your comfort zone behind and go shooting during harsh evening light and capture those shadows and sun rays.

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4. A Hairy Business

Hair can in fact have a strong influence on faces and appearances. Changing hair styles for setting one, two and three is an important tip to create diverse portraits and keep the pot boiling. If your model has two left hands and you don’t know how to style hair yourself either, start working with a stylist or make up and hair artist for free projects. Everything is easier working as a team, and you get to watch and learn things that were new to you a second ago.

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5. Choose Different Backgrounds

Anyone can pull off a simple white background. Choose different textures of walls, houses or backdrops. I’ve specifically painted a wall in my living room in a distorted, “messy” kind of way to add a little spice to my portraits. Why not shoot at the model’s apartment for a free portfolio project next time so you can mix it up with new locations?

Rear View Of Woman Sitting At Beach
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6. Make ‘em Laugh

Portraits quickly take a different turn and get a new atmospheric feel than what you’re mostly used to, if the model gets to laugh out loud or smile in a photo. Serious model faces are everywhere. The laughing part is a special kind of challenge for a photographer.

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7. Less is More

Pay attention to details such as huge, eye-catching jewellery or hair ties on the wrists that models sometimes forget to take off. For example: nothing destroys a soft, tender portrait like a gigantic worn down wrist band from last years rock festival. Frankly, hair ties and shiny watches are also big taboos for me when shooting.

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8. Create Different Angles of Vision:

Ever tried to set your camera focus point on a tiny little detail, or something that the model is holding in her hand with a really low aperture rather than always putting the focus point on the eyes? This simple trick creates a different perspective on the person you’re capturing and without much effort, it adds a different dimension to your portraits. Things might develop into an artsy direction away from basic, 24/7 portraits.

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9. Get Your Model to Move Around

No one likes stiff, obviously staged poses. After many years of shooting a vast amount of extremely different people and capture their unique characters, I have to share an essential secret to portrait photography that I discovered. Focus on natural movements and real moments. I always ask my models to move and act natural while I observe and simply document their behaviour, instead of giving a lot of directions and staging positions. This can still include extraordinary poses and movements if that is something the model naturally does on her own.

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10. Don’t Be Afraid to Work That Button Until It Hurts

This tip is directly connected to the one beforehand. I personally have always been someone that loves to trigger that camera button 10-20 times more than most photographers probably do. I’d rather have more material to choose from than being upset about having missed that one natural graceful moment. Honestly, this is my personal secret to why my portraits have that natural, honest look and stand out in-between a multitude of same looking simple portraits. It’s all about the successfully captured second, when the model in front of the camera feels and acts mostly like herself.

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Keep these tips and tricks in mind when you’re shooting next time. It doesn’t matter if you’re only starting out with portrait photography or if you’re already experienced: stay curious about new things because you can always learn, no matter how long you’ve been taking photos for, leave your comfort zone. There are so many exciting aspects about portrait photography you yet didn’t discover. But most importantly: do it all with your strongest burning passion and a huge amount of fun!

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Follow Annette on EyeEm to see more of her beautiful work. The best portraits bring a subject’s expressions to life in a single snapshot, capturing their most authentic mood and emotion. For a chance to get your hands on a Google Pixel 2 device, submit your work to The Portraitist now!